US-VISIT questioned by GAO

The Homeland Security Department's plan to track the arrival and departure of every foreigner at the U.S. border is a "very risky endeavor" with not enough money or manpower to make it work, General Accounting Office officials said today.

In its latest report criticizing the massive entry-exit plan, GAO said Homeland Security doesn't have the staff to manage the large and complex program known as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT). Although DHS estimates the program would cost $7.2 billion through 2014, the actual cost may be more than double that estimate, the report said.

"US-VISIT is a risky undertaking because it is to support a critical mission, its scope is large and complex, it must meet a demanding implementation schedule and its potential cost is enormous," administration officials said.

GAO recommended that US-VISIT set up program management and a proper governing structure. It said an executive council should be set up to direct the program and be accountable for any problems. And it said that DHS must develop a life cycle cost and cost-benefit analysis for the program.

But James Williams, the program manager for US-VISIT, said the entry-exit plan has made progress in developing effective program management capacity and a proper governing structure.

Although he did not specifically talk about the cost, Williams did say in a letter to GAO that a DHS Investment Review Board has reviewed the project's cost twice.

"Overall, we concur with your recommendations to establish an effective program management capability and a proper governance structure," Williams wrote. "We are pleased to report that, subsequent to your findings, significant progress has been made in both areas. Nevertheless, we realize that much needs to be done."

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